By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Though the news, leaks, speculations and spins about the efforts to cobble together a coalition before time runs out in another week or so dominate the public discourse in Israel, the volatile situation on its borders isn’t being ignored either. As so often in Israel, professors are frequently being interviewed as experts.
They’re often saying different, and at times mutually contradictory, things. But they invariably remind us that many of the states in the region are artificial constructs imposed by the British and their allies when they dominated this part of the world. Disparate tribes were forcibly brought together to become political entities. The artificially and arbitrarily drawn maps divided tribes and made for internal tensions.
The only way in which these new entities could be ruled was by dictators, sometimes monarchs and sometimes “notionally elected presidents.” Though the states were nominally Muslim, religion divided them further because of the perennial strife between various sects, notably Sunnis and Shiites. The artificial unity the dictators imposed also meant holding religious divisions in check.
In retrospect, all that served Israel comparatively well. Though originally the Muslim states were all hostile to Israel, their leaders would only rarely risk their own internal position to fight “the Zionist entity,” as in the 1967 and 1973 wars. More often they refrained from endangering their hold at home and didn’t seek confrontation abroad. And, happily for Israel, they failed both in the Six Day War and in the Yom Kippur wars.
Thus most of the time, Israel could keep its neighbors in check. Assad, father and son, may have spewed hatred against Israel but they kept to the armistice agreement. Other states – notably Egypt and Jordan – made peace, albeit a cold one because the population at large was clearly opposed to it. Even Hamas in Gaza seems to control the people there and only lets factions hurl rockets at Israel when it deems it expedient. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states my even at times secretly cooperate with Israel. And before the revolution, Israel had a very close relationship with the Shah.
The Arab Awakening has changed all that. The dictators have gone or are going. Despite the calls for democracy, anarchy seems to be the order of the day. The experts are saying repeatedly that the artificially created countries are returning to tribal divisions. As the central authorities can no longer control what’s happening on their borders with Israel, anything becomes possible, little of it good.
The Sinai has become a haven for gangs that endanger foreigners, make it possible for people and goods to be smuggled in and out of Gaza, and destabilize Egypt. The situation on the border with Syria is even more volatile. Though Jordan still sticks to its old ways, nobody knows for how long. Further away from Israel – e.g. Yemen – things are also complicated; nobody knows what will happen to the emirs in the Gulf.
In this volatile situation, Israel is, literally, building fences. In addition to the controversial one that largely separates Israelis from the Palestinians, there’re now fences both in the south and along the Golan Heights to prevent immigration and infiltration.
How all this will unfold is anybody’s guess. The professors seem to modify their views between interviews because the situation on the ground is in a state of flux. Alas, I haven’t heard them say that any of it is good news for Israel.